Seventeen-year-old Jaheim was struggling to succeed. He had been expelled from every school in St. Lucie County, Florida, including an alternative school for at-risk teens. He had a history of substance use. The court ordered him to attend Project LIFT as one of the first students in their recent expansion to Fort Pierce, Florida.
Project LIFT was founded in 2010 by licensed psychotherapist Bob Zaccheo, who was frustrated with traditional treatment in a clinical setting. It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of at-risk teens and their families through treatment of substance use disorders, mental health counseling, mentoring and vocational skills training.
Prior to founding Project LIFT, Bob specialized in working with adolescent boys who struggled with substance use. He discovered that the key to success with that population was to help teens replace their unhealthy choices with real-world experiences and skills. He invited a friend who was a certified mechanic to teach auto repair while his clients continued in counseling. He termed the sessions, “Psychotherapy Under the Hood of a Car.”
From these early sessions, Project LIFT was born. The Morgridge Family Foundation was an early investor. It was clear from the beginning that Bob and the team were disrupting traditional mental health service delivery models for the better. That early investment has led to exponential growth for Project LIFT by giving them the credibility and recognition needed to attract additional investors and support.
“The programs led by Bob Zaccheo and the Project LIFT team is an example of true disruption,” said Carrie Morgridge, co-founder of the Morgridge Family Foundation, “The future of work will rely on effective programs like the one they have built.”
When Jaheim started the program, in 2021, he was quiet and kept to himself. He was distrustful of the staff and his peers. When his therapist and vocational mentors made it clear that he was not there to be punished but rather to get help in meeting his potential, Jaheim began to drop his wall.
Soon, he asked to join Project LIFT’s Pathway Academy program to finish his high school diploma. His teachers quickly found that Jaheim was gifted academically but had never received the social, emotional and mental health support he needed to excel. Jaheim graduated high school in March 2022 with one of the highest GPAs in the history of the Pathway Academy program.
Jaheim also excelled in welding and carpentry, and began to believe in his ability to secure a job outside of Project LIFT. After turning 18, and with the assistance of Project LIFT staff, he did just that. He remains sober and self-sufficient. Jaheim will stay in touch with Project LIFT, where he will have long term access to mental health counseling and vocational upskilling.
Project LIFT has grown from one location serving 50 at-risk teens to three locations with more than 30,000 square feet of vocational training space that will serve more than 600 teens in 2022. Much of that expansion was funded and enabled by the collective giving impact of four grants from three Impact100 chapters in southeast Florida.
Impact100, another MFF partner, unites and empowers women to give together and create transformational impact locally and globally. Project LIFT received their first grant from Impact100 the Palm Beaches in 2017 to fund their initial expansion into Belle Glade, Florida.
With a crime rate of 43 per 1,000 residents, Belle Glade has one of the highest crime rates in America and 40 percent of the population lives beneath the poverty line. Project LIFT serves more than 200 young people per year in Belle Glade, where they provide therapy as well as training and employment partnerships with local industry to drive job opportunities.
After the success of their first Impact100 grant, Project LIFT secured a second grant, this time from Impact100 Martin County. The grant allowed Project LIFT to launch an innovative educational platform for high school dropouts. The platform allows students to earn an accredited diploma while learning a skilled trade and receiving mental health counseling woven seamlessly into their academic day. Over 100 students have earned a diploma and pursued either a skilled trade or post-secondary education.
In 2021, a third grant was awarded by Impact100 St. Lucie to replicate the successful programs created in Belle Glade and Martin County in St. Lucie County. In 2022, Martin County made a second gift.
This grant will allow Project LIFT to take its award-winning programming on the road with a new project called “Welding on Wheels: The Road to Employment.”
Welding on Wheels will introduce the in-demand trade of welding to the most underserved and marginalized communities of Martin County, using both cutting edge virtual reality simulations and real welding equipment. It will open new career pathways for teens and young adults in need, like Jaheim, and connect them with training and job placement resources. With these resources, the young people served could make salaries of up to six figures as welders.
In addition to the positive impact on the communities in which they work, the lasting collaboration between Project LIFT and Impact100 has widespread implications.
With a combined membership of almost 650 local women, Impact100’s grants have raised awareness of issues like substance abuse, workforce development and mental health treatment amongst their members and the local community. Project LIFT’s work in these areas is likewise shared in the impacted communities and beyond, driving awareness and new donors.
Together, Project LIFT and Impact100 are real-time examples of the power of collective giving and bringing communities together.